Game Notes: January 23, 2009

Jan. 23, 2009

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Date: January 24, 2009

Location: Wells Fargo Arena, Tempe, Ariz.

Radio: KTUC AM 1400 (Derrick Palmer, Alysiah Bond)

TV: FSNAZ (Jim Watson, Mary Murphy)

Tip Off Time: As the first half of Pac-10 play nears its conclusion, the Wildcats play the first of their two scheduled regular season games against in-state rival Arizona State this Saturday afternoon in a game to be televised on Fox Sports Arizona. The two teams will meet again in McKale Center on February 21st.

Catch the Action: Entering his second season calling Arizona women's basketball games will be Derrick Palmer. He will be joined by Alysiah Bond, the Arizona women’s basketball director of operations and former collegiate point guard at The Ohio State University. Wildcat games can be heard live on KTUC AM 1400. All broadcasts will start 30 minutes prior to tip-off for the pre-game show. Please visit for all of your live stats, audio and video needs.

UCLA Recap: Arizona set a pair of school records against UCLA last Saturday, but it was not the kind the Wildcats want to remember in a 48-38 loss to the Bruins. Arizona made just 11 field goals in the contest, matching the fewest ever for a single game, and also set an all-time Pac-10 low of .234 field goal percentage. Amina Njonkou had her 3rd double-double of the season with 14 points and 12 rebounds while Ify Ibekwe also chipped in with 14 points and pulled down 8 boards. Sarah Hays posted season-highs of 10 rebounds in 28 minutes off the bench for the Cats.

Head Coach Niya Butts: Not only has the Arizona playing roster seen its share of turnover, but the coaching staff is also entirely new for the 2008-09 season. On April 3, 2008, Niya Butts was named the 8th coach in the history of Arizona women’s basketball. Butts comes to Tucson after spending the last five seasons as an assistant coach at the University of Kentucky. During her time with the Wildcats, she helped guide the team to a 88-72 record (.550) that included three WNIT appearances and a berth in the 2006 NCAA Tournament. Prior to her time in Lexington, Butts was an assistant coach at Michigan State during the 2002-03 season. That year, the Spartans made their first NCAA appearance in six seasons after posting an overall record of 17-12. She began her coaching career at Tennessee Tech, leading the Golden Eaglettes to back-to-back Ohio Valley Conference regular season titles in 2001 and 2002.

Butts is one of many head coaches in the NCAA ranks who played for the legendary Pat Summitt at the University of Tennessee, graduating in 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in social work and a minor in psychology. A four-year letterwinner with the Lady Vols, Butts was a two-time NCAA champion (1997, 1998), three-time winner of the SEC championship (1998, 1999, 2000) and was chosen the SEC Defensive Player of the Year after her 1997 freshman campaign. She also excelled in the classroom and was three times named an Academic All-SEC selection (1998, 1999, 2000).

Series Notes: Arizona State owns a 44-30 lead in the all-time series between the two rivals. The Sun Devils have captured the last six meetings between the two schools and 8-of-9 dating back to the 2001-02 season. The Wildcats pushed their rivals to the limit last season in Tempe before falling to a 67-64 decision. Amina Njonkou matched her 10 points with 10 rebounds to go along with four assists in the defeat while Ify Ibekwe tossed in 11 points to go along with seven rebounds.

Scouting the Sun Devils: Arizona has bounced back from a tough 0-2 start to Pac-10 play and is in the midst of a four-game winning streak. The Sun Devils blew out UCLA last Thursday before pulling out a 12-point win over USC on Saturday. A balanced ASU attack is led by Dymond Simon at 13.2 points per game while Briann January is not far behind at 12.2 points while also shooting 44 percent from three-point range. Head coach Charli Turner Thorne is in her 13th season at Arizona State.

Future Cats: Head coach Niya Butts was happy to announce the signing of the first two players for the 2009 signing class earlier in the season. Senior guard Davellyn White of St. Mary’s High School in Phoenix is the first prep player to sign a National Letter of Intent to play for Butts. Whyte, the daughter of former Major League Baseball veteran Devon White, averaged 18 points per game in her junior campaign, leading the Lady Knights to a 19-9 record and the 5A Desert Valley Region championship. She was an all-state selection and was the runner-up in the region player of the year voting.

Joining Whyte with three years of eligibility remaining is Brooke Jackson, who is currently a freshman at Mesa Community College. A 5’9” shooting guard, Jackson prepped at Mountain View High School and was a two-time East Valley Region Player of the Year and two-time all-state selection. She is the 5A all-time single-season leader in scoring after tallying 849 points as a junior. Jackson also holds state 5A records for free throws made in a game (18) and season (216) as well as career steals (482). A solid outside shooter, Jackson finished her prep career with a 41 percent mark from three-point range.

The Bottom Line: There is no easy way to describe the offensive futility the Wildcats experienced on Saturday afternoon. The team shot just 8.7 percent (2-for-23) in the second half on the way to tallying just 14 points. That output matched the 14 points the Wildcats scored last season in the opening round of the Pac-10 Tournament, a game that the Beavers won by a 46-31 ledger. Despite allowing the Bruins just 48 points, capturing a 42-38 rebounding edge and making 12 more free throws than UCLA, the Cats were 0-for-8 from three-point range and committed 22 turnovers that turned into 23 points for the Bruins.

Injury Update: A depleted Arizona roster that had avoided any further setbacks for the better part of a month was unable to keep its healthy streak intact as a pair of Wildcats suffered injuries against the Trojans on Thursday evening. Freshman guard Reiko Thomas suffered a left ankle injury late in the USC game and is listed as questionable against Arizona State after sitting out the game against UCLA. Fellow freshman Courtney Clements hurt her right ankle in the early part of the USC game, but was able to return and is nearing a full recovery.

Fine Line: A bench that generally only goes eight players deep has little wiggle room when it comes to productivity and the Wildcats showed that frailty on Saturday against UCLA. Without the 11.7 points per game that Thomas averages, the Wildcats were unable to reach the 50-point mark, a level that would have provided the team with enough points to pick up its first Pac-10 win.

Going the Distance: With a roster depleted due to injuries, the active and healthy Wildcats have seen their share of minutes this season. Twenty-eight times this season an Arizona player has logged at least 40 minutes of action in a game. Ashley Frazier leads the way as she has played all 40 minutes in 13-of-17 contests, including a 53-minute log during the triple-overtime win against Loyola Marymount and all 45 minutes on Thursday against USC, and is averaging a Pac-10 leading 39.9 minutes per contest. Reiko Thomas (37.1), Ibekwe (33.7), Amina Njonkou (32.6), and Courtney Clements (31.2) are also logging heavy minutes in their starting roles for the Wildcats.

Free Throw Findings: One place the Wildcats have shown an improvement in 2008-09 versus last season is at the free throw line. After connecting at a .652 clip one season ago, the Cats currently own a 71.7 percent free throw percentage as a team. Thomas leads the team with a .819 mark while Frazier has earned a .750 mark. The Cats have also limited the opportunities of the opposition, making 61 more free throws (248) than the opposition has attempted (187).

Wiping the Glass: The Wildcats continue to show their rebounding prowess as they have outrebounded the opposition in 11-of-17 contests thus far. The Cats are averaging 40.7 rebounds per game while allowing the opposition 36.2 rebounds each game. The 4.5 rebounding margin the Wildcats have enjoyed ranks the team 62nd in the NCAA.

National Notables: Speaking of the NCAA statistics, Ibekwe is tops in the Pac-10 and is currently 6th in the NCAA in rebounds per game at 12.3. She is also 72nd in blocked shots per game at 1.7, and most recenlty jumped to 96th in scoring (15.8). As a team, the Wildcats are ranked 76th in free throw shooting at 71.7 percent with Thomas checking in at 82nd on the individual charts. The Wildcats are also 14th in the NCAA in fouls committed per game with just 13.9 violations per contest.

Topping the Charts: Three times this season, Ibekwe has placed her name on the top 10 single-game rebounding list. She opened the season with 18 boards against Toledo, then grabbed 19 rebounds in a home victory against UC Santa Barbara nine days later before her 20-rebound output against Boise State.

Incredible Ify: It would be impossible to overstate the impact that Ibekwe had on the Arizona victory over Boise State last month. Her 26-point, 20-rebound performance was the first 20-20 game in program history and only the third in the NCAA at that point of 2008-09. She now owns three of the top four individual single-game rebounding totals in team history and is on pace to shatter the season record for rebounds per game of 10.8 set by the late Shawntinice Polk in the 2002-03 campaign. She is also on pace to register 19 double-doubles, a total that would place her just two behind Polk’s 2003 total of 21 on the Arizona single-season list.

Accepting the Accolades: Not only was Ibekwe named the Pac-10 Player of the Week in December, she was recently named to the Naismith Award early season watch list. As one of 49 players and just three from the Pac-10 chosen to the initial list, Ibekwe will have an opportunity to remain on the semifinal list of 30 players when the Atlanta Tipoff Club has its voting members cast their ballots in February.

Unlucky Number 18: Despite the impressive individual outings by Ibekwe and Bofia in their 18-rebound efforts, the Wildcats came up on the losing end of each contest. However, the Cats made amends a week later by earning the win against UC Santa Barbara with the 19 rebounds tallied by Ibekwe. Including the other 10 games listed in the graphic above, the Wildcats are a perfect 4-0 when an Arizona player has at least 19 rebounds and 5-4 with a player tallying 18 rebounds.

Block Party: Last season, the Wildcats were one of the prominent teams in the Pac-10 when it came to blocked shots, finishing second in the league with 106 blocks for an average of 3.53 per game. Though the team’s numbers are slightly down this season, Beatrice Bofia went a long way toward pushing the Cats back up that chart as she swatted a season- and career-best six shots last Saturday against Oregon State. That total was good for a share of the 3rd-highest total in program history. Shawntinice Polk holds the single-game record at nine, set March 1, 2003 against California. On two occasions Polk had eight blocks while she also tallied six blocked shots in four other contests, a number originally set by Leslie Martin on December 14, 1981.

Turn It Over: Taking care of the ball has been an up-and-down proposition for the Wildcats this season. Through the first six games of the season, the Cats were averaging 22.3 miscues per contest. However, the team then went through a six-game stretch where the squad committed 15 or fewer turnovers. The last five games has seen the Wildcats revert back to their ways from the start of the campaign as they have averaged 19.2 turnovers during the last five losses.

Short on Shots: Though the Wildcats have done a solid job at getting to the free throw line, their struggles in the turnover column have limited the amount of shot attempts the team has taken over the last five games. After averaging 58 shot attempts during a 4-1 stretch, the team has been taking just over 49 field goal attempts per contest during the last five losses.

Dial 3: While three-point shooting has been an achilles’ heel for the Wildcats all season, the team has shown some improvement from beyond the arc. Despite failing to connect last Saturday against UCLA and averaging just two three-pointers made per game over the first 10 games, the Cats were 25-of-78 (.321) from long range over a six game stretch, including a 10-for-21 (.476) stretch against Stanford and Oregon.

No Foul Play: One area on the stat sheet that does seem to be falling in the favor of the Wildcats is personal fouls. The Cats have committed just 237 fouls through 17 games with only three foul-outs. With an average of just 13.9 fouls committed per game, the propensity not to foul as well as their solid conversion rate at the free throw line has helped the Wildcats make up for the 12 points lost per game in the three-point battle.

Defending Their Home: The Wildcats have shown that the McKale Center will not be an easy place for visiting teams to come in 2008-09. In eight home contests thus far, the Wildcats are allowing a meager 56.1 points per game on Olson Court. The Cats have held the oppositon under 50 points on four occasions and allowed #9-ranked Texas A&M just 54 points while yielding only 56 to #6 California in a pair of hard-fought defeats.

Road Woes: With the sweep in Oregon last week, the Wildcats dropped to 1-4 away from home this season. In those four losses, the Wildcats are allowing an average of 70.3 points per game, allowing 68 points in 3-of-4 contests while also giving up 77 points in a loss to Middle Tennessee.

Dishing It Up: Junior point guard Ashley Frazier has turned the corner after struggling through the opening month of the season is showing signs of making the transition from junior college point guard to solid NCAA Division I floor general. Frazier has combined to dish out 32 assists over the past eight games while committing more turnovers than assists only twice. She leads the squad with 71 assists, good for a 4.1 per game average, and her 5:1 ratio against Boise State sent her assist-to-turnover ratio over the 1.0 mark where it continues to hold steady.

Simply The Best: The Wildcats will have their hands full this season as they play a challenging 29-game regular season schedule. Looking at the most recent polls released this past week, the Wildcats are set to play seven games against teams ranked in the top 25. The Cats have two games each against #11 Stanford, #8/6 California and Arizona State, who only recently dropped out of the Top 25, during Pac-10 play after having already gone toe-to-toe with #9/7 Texas A&M. The Cats have also played Middle Tennessee, a team that has received votes several times already this season.
NOTE: All coaches poll references are listed with the Associated Press poll first followed by the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll.

Against All Odds: The difficult slate of games the Wildcats face this season includes some impressive credentials boasted by its opponents. Of the 20 teams the Cats face during the 2008-09 campaign, eight of them were postseason participants. Six of those teams took part in the NCAA Tournament and amassed a record of 10-5 that included a run by Stanford to the championship game. Two other teams each went 1-1 in the postseason NIT and three of the eight teams won at least a share of their respective regular season conference titles.

Working Their Way Up: Arizona was handed the dubious honor of being picked last among all Pac-10 teams when the Preseason Coaches Poll was released in late October. Defending champion Stanford earned the top spot, edging Bay Area rival California by just two points thanks to a 6-4 advantage in first place votes. The Cats, meanwhile, got just 16 total points, finishing four points behind Washington State for 9th position. In the recently released media poll, the Wildcats were picked to finish 9th in the conference.

Care To Speculate: Sophomore Ify Ibekwe had an outstanding freshman campaign derailed for six games midway through the season after taking an elbow to the eye. She still managed to pull down 232 rebounds, good for 4th on the single-season list for freshmen. If she had been able to play in all 30 games and maintain her 8.0 average, she would have moved up to third position and would have recorded the 7th-best single season in school history for any class. Assuming Ibekwe played in 30 games for four seasons and kept her rebounding average the same, she would finish with 960 rebounds, a total that would make her the Wildcats’ all-time leading rebounder ahead of current record holder Adia Barnes at 921. This season, she has pushed that mark to 12.6 per game through the first fifth of the season, an average that would leave her at 356 through 29 games and surpass the single-season record set by Shawntinice Polk in 2003-04.

Up Next: Arizona continues its three-game road swing next weekend when it heads back to the Northwest to take on Washington on January 29 before heading East to visit Washington State on January 31. The Cats then start a stretch with 5-of-7 games at home beginning with a visit from Oregon State on Thursday, February 5.

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